Some day we'll walk in the rays of the beautiful sun
Some day when the world is much brighter
~The Five Stairsteps
It’s funny how the four-year election cycle can truly churn the way one views the political landscape. Four years ago when I was contemplating whether to vote for Bush or Kerry, I had zero interest in the issue of special needs. I have no recollection of it being mentioned.
Four years and one autism diagnosis later, my perspective has been forever changed. Admittedly, I’ve turned into an almost single-issue voter.
And I’m not talking about abortion or immigration or foreign policy or any of that sexy business.
I’m talking about autism. I’m talking about special needs. I’m talking about research. I’m talking about services.
And, much to my satisfaction, the presidential candidates are talking about it too.
It started full-force for me back in June, when I read a Newsweek profile about Cindy McCain that included this reference to special education:
In 1972, Cindy left home for the University of Southern California. Her husband likes to say USC stands for "University of Spoiled Children," and Cindy looked the part. A cheerleader and sorority girl, she drove around campus in a gold Mercedes. But she took her studies seriously. Her father wanted her to enter the family business. Instead, she earned a master's degree in special education and returned home to teach kids with Down syndrome and other disabilities in a poor Phoenix neighborhood. "She took us all by surprise," recalls O. K. Fulton, then the school's principal. "She didn't have to work. Her dad had lots of money, but she went beyond what the job called for."
I had no idea. Score one for the R’s.
Later I read an interesting blog on Autism Vox about Mike Strautmanis, Chief Counsel to Barack Obama and the father of a child with autism. In the blog, Kristina Chew quotes Strautmanis as follows:
Barack Obama and I met, and Michele, when I talked my way into a job to be Michele’s paralegal, just about before I was going to graduate from college. Since then we have all been friends. I am married, have three children, one of whom has autism, on the autism spectrum, has autism spectrum disorder. The struggles I have had with my son as we worked through the healthcare system, education system, through all the services in our community, trying to find out what’s happening with him, how we can help him, Barack Obama and Michele have been right there with us.
Score one for the D’s.
Viewing the actual Democratic and Republican national conventions proved to be a jaw-dropping, standing-ovation- in-my-living-room couple of weeks. Prime-time television coverage of both conventions provided the following euphoric moments of validation:
Senator Hillary Clinton
I will always remember the single mom who had adopted two kids with autism. She didn't have any health insurance and she discovered she had cancer. But she greeted me with her bald head painted with my name on it and asked me to fight for health care for her and her children.
Former President Bill Clinton
I will never forget the parents of children with autism and other serious conditions who told me on the campaign trail that they couldn't afford health care and couldn't qualify their children for Medicaid unless they quit work and starved or got a divorce.
Governor Sarah Palin
And children with special needs inspire a special love. To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.
Senator John McCain
I fight for Americans... I fight for Jake and Toni Wimmer of Franklin County, Pa. Jake works on a loading dock, coaches Little League, and raises money for the mentally and physically disabled. Toni is a school teacher working towards her master's degree. They have two sons, the youngest, Luke, has been diagnosed with autism. Their lives should matter to the people they elect to office and they matter to me.
To both political parties, I extend my heartfelt thanks. Autism and special needs have officially arrived on the nation’s political radar. Call me idealistic, but I believe awareness leads to understanding, which then fosters much-needed change.
I’m also painfully aware that actions speak much louder than words. To both political parties I say this as well:
We all are.
To read the position of both presidential candidates regarding autism, please visit the Candidates Speak page at Autism Votes.